Monday, 14 June 2010

Stratford's Fake Titanium Trees

Let’s face it: the centre of Stratford is far from glamorous. It’s a concrete island, marooned by the A11, with a shopping centre that looks terrible, dominates the few buildings with any character (like Stratford Theatre and the Church of St John the Evangelist) and is about to become redundant with the completion of the new, massive Westfield development next to the Olympic site.

In an effort to essentially hide this from the thousands of visitors arriving in 2012, Mayor Sir Robin Wakes approved a bizarre plan back in February – the £3 million, 450m-long Shoal sculpture, which involves a “grove” of 180 polished titanium tree canopies, each 16m high, whose “leaves” are designed to sway gently in the breeze. This is part of £40 million of public money to spruce up Stratford and includes plans to clad the shopping mall with titanium tiles.

Unfortunately for Sir Robin, the council’s own design review panel have been far from enthusiastic, questioning the proposal’s value for money, whether “such a dramatic perimeter screen would encourage people to enter the mall” and whether it would “get to look tired in a few years’ time”. However, what Sir Robin wants, he tends to get. My guess is that concerns now raised by English Heritage, which has added its opposition to the proposals because of the impact on the grade II listed St John’s Church, will be completely ignored.

I suspect that most people would prefer real trees to fake titanium ones and real jobs rather than quirky architectural projects adding clutter to Stratford and very likely to be expensive to maintain. Fundamentally, the Shoal sculpture is little more than Olympic window-dressing, because it fails to address Stratford’s bigger problem, which is its lack of carefully designed streets that reflect in any way what remains of the area’s history.

My favoured option? Demolish the shopping mall, which is about to become eclipsed by the Westfield development anyway. Set aside more green space on the ‘A11 island’ and create new open-air pedestrian streets that include an outdoor market. It’ll never happen, of course, because everything is geared up to events in 2012. But at the very least, if you’re going to spend £40 million, asking people what they’d like would seem like an important first step.


Anonymous said...

Great article! I live in Stratford and this is an awful eyesore notwithstanding the inconvenience it's currently causing if you want to cross from the bus/train station to town. Real trees would, indeed, be preferable, more environmentally friendly and cheaper too!

suburbanslice said...

Hi Kevin - do you mind if I quote from this post in an essay I'm writing for my uni course? Mat.

Kevin said...

Mat, that's absolutely no problem

suburbanslice said...

Thanks Kevin.

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